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      ‘I really want to race my way in’: Alex Bowman and William Byron ready for All-Star weekend

      © Axalta / Phil Cavali Photography

      With 15 drivers locked in to the Monster Energy NASCAR All-Star Race, Alex Bowman and William Byron will each be looking to secure one of the remaining four spots and the chance to compete for the $1 million prize.

      The two Axalta-sponsored drivers can get hold of a spot in the field by winning the fan vote or by racing their way in via the Monster Energy Open. The Open is broken into three stages of 20, 20 and 10 laps with each stage winner advancing to the All-Star Race.

      “I think having the support of the Internet forums is pretty big when it comes to online votes from the fans,” Bowman said. “I appreciate everyone’s votes so far, but, man, I really want to race my way in first.”

      © Axalta / Phil Cavali Photography

      Bowman punched his ticket to last year’s All-Star Race by winning the first stage of the Open.

      Byron is searching for his first start in the main event.

      “The All-Star Race is an unpredictable race, for sure,” Byron said. “You’re racing for money and not points or positioning over the year. It creates a dynamic for you to be more willing to take greater risks. Going into that week as a driver, you look at it as a little bit less pressure than a typical race weekend. You’re racing just for the win, especially in a position like we’re in to race our way into the All-Star Race to begin with. Outside of going for the win, it’s basically just bringing the steering wheel back at the end of the day. It’s a unique dynamic for that race and I’m really hoping that this weekend I’ll get to experience my first one.”

      ALEX BOWMAN

      BOWMAN IN ALL-STAR: Last year, Bowman and the No. 88 team won the first stage of the Open to punch their ticket for the All-Star Race later that evening. The 2018 All-Star Race was the first time that the Tucson, Arizona, native made a start in the main event. Prior to that, Bowman made two starts in the Open at Charlotte Motor Speedway, finishing 13th in 2014 and 27th in 2015. The 26-year-old started third in last season’s Open and took the win in Stage 1, going on to finish 21st in the main event after a late-race incident on the backstretch. This year, if he were to join the main event once again, he could become the third driver in history to win the All-Star Race before his first points race win.

      SO CLOSE: For the past three weekends, Bowman and the No. 88 team have crossed the finish line at the conclusion of the race in second place. It marks the first time that a driver has finished second three times in a row before capturing his first win in the NASCAR Cup Series.

      IVES’ ALL-STAR EXPERIENCE: Crew chief Greg Ives has called the shots four times for the No. 88 team at the All-Star event at Charlotte Motor Speedway. The crew chief’s All-Star Race résumé includes one top-five finish and two top-10 results. Last year, Ives led the No. 88 team to a victory in Stage 1 of the Open, putting the team in the big show later that evening. Ives hails from Bark River, Michigan, where he was a race engineer for the No. 48 team for seven All-Star Races between 2006 and 2012. The team won two events during that time (2006, 2012) and started from the pole back in 2009.

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      WILLIAM BYRON

      ALL-STAR ASPIRATIONS: As a rookie in the NASCAR Cup Series last year, William Byron was not locked into the 2018 All-Star Race at Charlotte Motor Speedway. Competing in his first Open to try to race his way in, Byron was challenged with a new rules package and limited time behind the wheel with it after weather canceled part of on-track activities last year. Lining up by points for the qualifying race, Byron fought to gain track position through the first stage, and despite running within the top five for almost the entirety of the race, came up just short of transferring to the main event and battling for his chance of winning the $1 million prize. Returning for redemption, Byron will have three chances to race his way into what would be the first All-Star Race of his career by winning any of the stages in this year’s Open.

      HOME SWEET HOME: Cutting his teeth in the racing world in Charlotte, North Carolina, Byron is one of only a handful of drivers who was born and raised in the “home of NASCAR.” After visiting U.S. Legend Cars International headquarters in Harrisburg, North Carolina, with his father in 2012, Byron found himself behind the wheel for the first time the next year competing in the Young Lion Division. Winning 33 of the 69 legend car events he ran across the United States in 2013, Byron went on to lock up the U.S. Legend Young Lions National championship and the Thursday Thunder Young Lion championship at Atlanta Motor Speedway. Progressing to the Legend Car Pro Division the next season, Byron also signed with JR Motorsports developmental program at the same time. From that point on, Byron hasn’t slowed down at all as he climbed the racing ranks before ultimately making it to the top level of NASCAR as a Cup Series rookie in 2018.

      KNAUS’ KNACK: Having made 17 starts as a crew chief in the All-Star Race, No. 24 team crew chief Chad Knaus is looking to make it 18 when he gets to the track this weekend with Byron. In his 17 starts in the million-dollar event, Knaus has gone on to claim the top prize four times despite an ever-changing format.

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      HENDRICK MOTORSPORTS

      ALL-STAR PROS: Hendrick Motorsports has sent at least three cars to the NASCAR All-Star Race for 19 consecutive seasons (2000-2018) – the longest streak all-time. If Alex Bowman or William Byron were to win the fan vote or race their way into the main event by winning one of the three stages in the Open, that streak would increase to 20. The organization also owns all-time records for the most starts (108), different drivers to compete (21), wins (eight), top-five finishes (38), top 10s (60) and laps led (711) in the All-Star Race.

      WINNING WAYS: Hendrick Motorsports’ eight wins in the All-Star Race have come courtesy of three drivers – Jimmie Johnson (four), Jeff Gordon (three) and Terry Labonte. The eight wins are double the next-closest teams. Richard Childress Racing and Roush Fenway Racing are tied for second with four apiece.

      OPENING STRONG: Hendrick Motorsports drivers have also won the Open prior to the All-Star Race four times, which leads teams all-time. Chip Ganassi Racing and Michael Waltrip Racing Inc. are tied for second with three apiece. Gordon, Ricky Craven, Brian Vickers and Dale Earnhardt Jr. each won an Open for Hendrick Motorsports. Bowman won Stage 1 of the Open last season in order to transfer to the All-Star Race.

      Via Hendrick Motorsports